Essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency during cholestasis is mainly due to malabsorption of dietary EFA (23). Theoretically, dietary phospholipids (PL) may have a higher bioavailability than dietary triglycerides (TG) during cholestasis.

We developed murine models for EFA deficiency (EFAD) with and without extrahepatic cholestasis and compared the efficacy of oral supplementation of EFA as PL or as TG. EFAD was induced in mice by feeding a high-fat EFAD diet. After 3 wk on this diet, bile duct ligation was performed in a subgroup of mice to establish extrahepatic cholestasis. Cholestatic and noncholestatic EFAD mice continued on the EFAD diet (controls) or were supplemented for 3 wk with EFA-rich TG or EFA-rich PL. Fatty acid composition was determined in plasma, erythrocytes, liver, and brain. After 4 wk of EFAD diet, induction of EFAD was confirmed by a sixfold increased triene-to-tetraene ratio (T/T ratio) in erythrocytes of noncholestatic and cholestatic mice (P < 0.001). EFA-rich TG and EFA-rich PL were equally effective in preventing further increase of the erythrocyte T/T ratio, which was observed in cholestatic and noncholestatic nonsupplemented mice (12- and 16-fold the initial value, respectively).

In cholestatic mice, EFA-rich PL was superior to EFA-rich TG in decreasing T/T ratios of liver TG and PL (each P < 0.05) and in increasing brain PL concentrations of the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid (each P < 0.05).

We conclude that oral EFA supplementation in the form of PL is more effective than in the form of TG in increasing LCPUFA concentrations in liver and brain of cholestatic EFAD mice.